This morning we headed to a second community called San Luiz, which is about five minutes from Emiliano Zapata Sur. Last year, the group focused on meeting the people in the community but this year, an important objective for us was the community assessment for San Luiz. Taking what we learned from Public Health Nursing, we explored the community limits with Victor and conducted a windshield survey. Along with Victor, other key informants that we interviewed were many mothers who have lived in the community for several years and a woman named Roquel, who coordinates visits with local members, such as Victor. We collaborated with the interpreters and received additional subjective data from the women in the community during our morning walking tour.
During the walking tour, we began to see the stark reality of their living conditions. We were able to learn so much about how cultural, social, political and economic differences structured their lives, as well as how it affected their approach to health care. The homes are temporary structures that were either built from scrap materials the families were able to find, or that had been gifted to them. The materials varied from sheet metals, wooden frames to plastic tarps. We also learned many families did not have permits to build permanent structures and that it would take several years for the government to approve their application. As a result, they are technically considered squatters. They vocalized their frustration at the fact that some of the lots were empty or contained houses that had been abandoned, but yet they were still not allowed to build on that land. Many of the families are close to one another and we could tell there is a strong sense of support for everyone by the way they watched over other families’ children, advocated for the homes in intense distress, and simply from their conversations with each other. Lastly, the families lack access and face numerous barriers to essential resources such as schools, healthcare facilities, clean water, proper hygiene and plumbing, hospitals, costly surgeries, fresh produce, healthy foods, and better paying jobs. Despite these conditions, it was evident that these families worked really hard to make a living and to provide a home for their children. We were amazed to see their craftiness in their decorated homes and gardens of plants and vegetables. With all that they had, they still managed to display a sense of ownership, pride, happiness, and livelihood.
The severe poverty in San Luiz sets people up for an unfavorable environment that creates unsafe conditions, health risks and concerns, and unnecessary struggles. As nursing students and advocates for healthy living, it was clear that Environmental Health and its implications in San Luiz was our main concern. Health starts where one lives, learns, plays and works. Our community assessment shows that the people in San Luiz Community face multiple and complex environmental threats to their health and wellbeing.
The main problem each community member described was the flooding and water damage in their homes during the rainy season. Their homes would fill up to two feet of water and due to the structure of the homes and the surroundings, their only solution was to let it dry. The standing water commonly contains microbial contamination which poses a risk of human exposure and the likelihood of infection. Bacteria, fungi, and parasites quickly harbor these breeding grounds as there is no plumbing system to eliminate the water. Consequently, a high prevalence of illnesses from microbes is present. For example, the most common hospital visits for the children expressed by the mothers were gastrointestinal illnesses such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These illnesses are compounded by vector-borne diseases from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas around the community. Furthermore, wet belongings in their homes can lead to fast growing mold that are hazardous to the community members and their pets. Spores can be inhaled through the air as family sleeps together in their unventilated, humid, small home. Because of these findings, we altered our plans for the rest of the week in order to address these environmental health issues.
Another environmental concern is the pollution and the practice of burning trash because there is no waste management system in place. Burned trash piles was common as we walked through the community. It contained leftover food, plastic bottles, plastic food wraps and electronics. This poses a health risk because air pollutants, toxics and compounds released from the trash are linked to lung and neurological diseases, increased risk for heart attacks and prostate cancer. In addition, shards of glass and rubbish scattered everywhere makes it unsafe for children to play around. We hope in future years to offer support through designing a waste management, composting, and environmental health program.
Multiple and complex environmental factors pose adverse health disparities and wellbeing to the San Luiz Community who are fighting to get ahead for their children and their future. Health concerns of several community members include deafness, blindness, congenital birth defects, cardiovascular diseases, dehydration, and gastrointestinal problems. Emotional distress and stress magnifies the health problems of the community members. These factors are further exacerbated by the social and economic disadvantages that the San Luiz’s children face. Such disadvantages and barriers include poor quality housing with fear of being kicked out, going to school that is several blocks away, playing around in a field of unpaved dirt with pollutants and contaminants, no running water, and having poor access to quality health care all add to the burdens of the community we encountered. It is essential that more support, programs, resources, research and individualized strategies need to be diverted to the San Luiz Community.